In this article, I am concerned with the ways in which engagement with performance has shaped—and continues to shape—the ideas and theoretical perspectives of ethnomusicologists. In many ethnomusicology programmes (including several I have been in as a student or teacher), graduate students are required to participate in performing ensembles, take lessons both at home and in the field, and participate in performance as part of their thesis or dissertation research, yet the rationale for these widespread practices is not easy to decipher from contemporary definitions or overviews of the field. While my formal studies of ethnomusicology took place in the United States, and much of the literature discussed here is an outgrowth of North American practices, my perspectives are also shaped by more than two decades of teaching, research, and interaction with scholars and performers in East Asia. Although I will make reference to researchers and developments in Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan, and Korea, the stories of ethnomusicology and performance in those locales deserve articles of their own, and I do not even pretend to speak for practices and issues elsewhere in Asia or in Europe, Latin American, Africa, or Oceania. Nevertheless, I believe that the issues raised here are of at least potential interest to all those involved in the intersection of music and ethnography, and I hope that these preliminary ideas will inspire comparative perspectives from scholars elsewhere.